USDA Agricultural Research Service


Agriculture Research Services (ARS) Administrative & Financial Management (AFM)

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Its supports over 750 research projects within 17 National programs, 2000 scientists and post docs and includes 90+ research locations, including overseas laboratories.

Administrative & Financial Management (AFM) provides a wide array of business services to support the research, education and economics missions of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Economics Research Service (ERS), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). AFM's business services include financial management, travel, human resources, homeland security, acquisition, property, facilities engineering, safety & health, information technology and extramural agreements. AFM is a geographically dispersed organization and had undergone a significant re-alignment to meet its customer service objectives.

Problem Statement

In 2012, AFM consolidated service delivery for all 11 AFM functions into 3 Business Service Centers (BSCs). This organization structure was tied in with the Secretary's "Blueprint for Stronger Service"-- building a modern and efficient service organization. The technology solution at that time was not able to support the work the geographically dispersed organization for work request tracking associated with all 11 AFM functions.

AFM was seeking technological innovations that were better suited to respond to 21st Century challenges for customer service, work transparency and accountability.

Creative’s Solution

Creative developed the Cloud technology based work request tracking application for Agriculture Research Services (ARS) Administrative and Financial Management (AFM) Division.

Creative worked with AFM leadership to review the business processes and recommended the approach to change the routing of these work requests from individuals to a group of specialists. It reduced over 1500 routing rules to less than 50 queues that are now monitored by the functional area specialists. We developed the solution using Salesforce.com to manage 100+ work request types/cases. Our solution provided the following capabilities:

  • Single portal for requesting all AFM work requests across functional areas like budget, travel, human resources, acquisition, real property, personal property, information technology and agreements
  • Service requesters have the ability to enter requests and ability to track the status of all requests as they go through the fulfillment process
  • Service providers have the ability to interact and collaborate with the service requesters from within the system, engage other specialists as needed and fulfill the requests
  • Ability to support across business service centers
  • Robust reports and dashboards to continuously monitor the performance of the organization

Delivery Approach

Creative has been supporting the AFMCSP program for two years. In first year of the Program, Creative utilized Iterative application development approach to build the basic Customer Request Routing for the various functional areas. We supported business process re-engineering across all functional areas and implemented the system in three distinct Phases:

  • Phase 1: Information Technology, Real Property and Personal Property requests
  • Phase 2: Budget, Acquisitions, Agreements, Engineering, Safety requests
  • Phase 3: HR, Travel and Space Management requests

The phased approach was well received by the portal users (Customers and Service Request specialists) since it enabled them to engage in a collaborative manner to ensure the business process alignment.

During second year, Creative helped ARS adopt the Agile development approach, with Sprint based approach. The development of key areas included 12 Sprints focused on e-forms automation through PDF generation, partner agency setup for AFM services, Data Calls Module, and Integrated Project Management module. All the Sprints (development and release cycles) constituted requirements gathering and validation using user stories, configuration and development, testing, user-training and rollout, using our Agile (Scrum) framework.

Benefits Realized

In the first year of the program, AFM realized several key benefits from the customer service portal, that align to their mission of providing high quality of customer service and satisfaction. These include:

  • One Stop Shop: Providing over 8,500 AFM customers across ARS and its partner agencies with a single, unified, and ubiquitous portal, across 11 functional areas of finance, human resources, and IT, among others
  • Provide transparency and collaboration between customers and service providers with respect to work request tracking, statuses, and communication
  • Efficient and optimized business processes through definition, analysis, re-design, measurement, and control of the KPIs (key performance indicators) and NFIs (non-financial invitations)
  • Improved management insight and decision making through data analytics and reporting across functional areas, both at individual and team, as well as executive level
  • Providing a medium for achieving highest levels of customer satisfaction through customer service, user engagement, and voice-of-customer based continuous improvement